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RUBEN, LINDA, AND TALL PAUL, WHO'S THE BRAVEST OF THEM ALL?

You have ambitions.
You've led an army of more than 2,000 officers for more than ten years.
You have more power sometimes than the president of the United States.
But it isn't enough.
You've never been elected to public office, but you smell an opening.
The guy whose office you covet wasn't even elected.

He's a Democrat, and you're a Republican. Though it's a "nonpartisan" election, most of the voters are Republicans, too.

He's a kid, and you're a cop.
You're also a good card player, some say, and it's time to play your hand.
You're Ruben Ortega, and you're following your instincts.
You need a way out.

You are toying with the idea of transforming yourself from police chief to mayor of Phoenix.

With great fanfare, you've recently conducted a "sting" operation that's netted the indictments of seven state legislators.

You gave a guy $300,000, instructed him to dole out the money to some greedy, cash-starved legislators, and watched their political lives pass before your eyes.

Everyone calls your handiwork "AzScam."
Thanks to your cameras, most voters have seen grainy films of the legislators bagging the cash on the evening news.

And there's more to come. You have more tapes. And files. But the second shoe has yet to drop.

How will it fall?
It gets tricky.
There's a hooker in Seattle who says you've gotten a little too friendly with a Phoenix house of prostitution and allowed folks to use drugs there.

It's the last straw, you say.
All you know is how to be a cop.
You need a bad guy, somebody you can point to who won't let you do your job.
You need a way out.
You need good headlines and a cause.
So you do things differently this time.

First, you run to the press, not your superior, to announce your decision to retire.

You blame this difficult decision on all the bureaucrats in city government who are proposing "guidelines" that would tie your hands in future sting operations.

You hope the kid will slip up and take issue with you. You reckon the boy mayor will support the guidelines, and the people's right to know.

When he does, you've got him.
Then you'll have some reasons to run for mayor--if only to send the kid back to college and protect all those officers who risked their lives filming journeyman crook Joe Stedino offering cash to the dangerous Chuy Higuera.

The kid may be young and goofy but you discover that his survival skills are well-honed.

Mayor Paul Johnson is the kid who calls your bluff and apologizes for any "misunderstanding."

You realize the kid's been hitting the books. He's taken the campaign advice of another great Arizona politician, the late U.S. Senator Henry F. Ashurst, who said in 1920: "You must learn that there are times when a man in public life is compelled to rise above his principles."

Johnson is wise beyond his years.
You're not so dumb, either. So you take credit for ending all talk of accountability in future sting operations--your top men can keep filming without having to submit invoices to the city manager for all the lights, action and cameras.

But you still need a way out.
You still need an evil person who leaves you no choice but to run for office.
You are reading the morning newspaper, admiring your picture on the front page, when suddenly it hits you.

Phoenix City Councilmember Linda Nadolski.
She hurt your feelings.
You'll call another press conference, hold up a marked copy of the morning newspaper, take credit again for AzScam, and blame Linda Nadolski and her "negative comments" for your decision to resign.

That's it. Nadolski. A woman. A liberal. A funny last name.
Perfect.
The nerve. She wants to know if the people are "safe" from Ruben Ortega.
Sure, it was a little schizoid--I'm quitting, I'm staying, I'm leaving.

But look on the bright side. You got three solid days of front-page, full-color media attention. Your "name identification" has never been higher. You showed emotion--indignation, humor, guts. And if the Arizona Republic keeps running those favorable polls and treats you the way it treated Fife Symington earlier this year, it's in the bag.

So maybe you did cut a deal with Johnson not to run against him for mayor. So what? The kid's smart, but not that smart. Deal, what deal?

There're more important issues out there. Like Nadolski. Yeah, Nadolski. You have ambitions.

You are a member of the Phoenix City Council and you care about neighborhoods.
You have more power sometimes than the mayor of Phoenix.
It's plenty of power, at least for another term or two.

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David J. Bodney